Lexus ES long-term test review: report 1
The striking ES hybrid is designed to grab Lexus a bigger slice of the luxury saloon market. But does it have what it takes to turn top execs away from the usual German models? We're living with...
The car Lexus ES 300h Takumi Run by Claire Evans, consumer editor
Why it’s here The ES is Lexus’s take on the luxury saloon; the twist is that it’s a hybrid, and its low emissions make it a vert attractive prospect as a company car
Needs to Trump the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class in areas other than emissions to prove itself a worthy alternative
List price £45,650 Target price £44,770 Price as tested £45,650 Miles 6147 Official economy 48.5-53.6mpg Test economy 51.6mpg Options fitted None
10 October 2019 – And now for something completely different
The first thing that you notice about my new Lexus ES is its huge, cheese-cutter front grille; let's be honest, it’s difficult to miss unless you sneak up on the car from behind. And it’s quite a Marmite feature – some people love it and some hate it, but nobody remains indifferent.
Personally, though, I think that's a good thing, because it ensures the ES doesn’t simply look like an identikit copy of other big saloons. In this sector of the car market, branding is hugely important – BMW and Mercedes’ logos are instantly recognisable, so I see having a front end that makes passers-by stop and stare as an advantage.
Okay, so now that’s out of the way, what about the rest of the car? Well, although the ES is new to the UK this year, brought in as the replacement for the GS, which never really caught on with UK buyers, it’s been on sale in various generations in Asia and the US since 1989.
It’s based loosely on the Toyota Camry, which is a good thing because, unusually, thanks to the economies of scale and lower build costs, it’s both cheaper and better equipped than the car it replaces.
Having chosen range-topping Takumi trim, I’m pleased to say that my ES comes with an equipment list as long as an orangutan's arm. As well as niceties like a heated, electrically adjustable steering wheel and all-round heated seats, it has the latest driver assistance systems, including sophisticated adaptive cruise control, a rear cross-traffic/pedestrian alert system with emergency braking and a 360deg panoramic view camera to make parking a doddle.
On top of that it has lots of little touches that make it easy to live with. These are what the Japanese call omotenashi – the idea of looking after people’s needs, even before they arise. The car’s door handles and the ground around it lights up as you approach, and if it’s raining and your front-seat passenger opens their door, the windscreen wipers will stop so they don’t splash water on them.
Smaller details are pleasing, too: the double-hinged lid of the huge central front storage bin means it can be raised towards the driver or passenger, and the secondary dial behind the main stereo volume button lets you flick up and down through radio stations or CD tracks without taking your eyes off the road. Yes, it has a CD player, so I’ve been having a great time digging out old albums and singing along to them.
The infotainment system isn’t the easiest to use, even though my car has the improved version of the Lexus's touchpad interface, which helps when flicking between menus. And the lack of Apple CarPlay is also a disappointment, making it more of a faff to link my phone to the car to use it through the speakers.
However, the ES has already shown off two important attributes: it’s hugely comfortable and cosseting and remarkably cheap to run. In the first month of ownership, I’ve had to make two last-minute treks from Kent to Swansea – a not-insubstantial 400-mile round trip.
The driver’s seat can be tweaked every which way (I wasn’t stiff or achy after each long drive) and during the hot weather it was great to turn on the cooling front seat and have plumes of cold air shooting into my back and legs (it may be a noisy function, but I didn’t get out of the car with a sweaty shirt).
Fuel economy has been surprisingly good for such a large car, too – driven gently in motorway traffic I’ve achieved 58mpg, and even when I’ve been at the legal limit and tackling hilly stretches of road the ES has still managed 48mpg.
I’ve not had much chance to use the car’s full EV mode, which you can activate and use in slow, urban traffic, but this will only improve on the creditable initial average of 51.6mpg. In short, so far, so encouraging.